- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wallace “Bucky” Williams, at 102, was the highlight of the third annual Negro League Hall of Fame Week.

Mr. Williams, who will turn 103 on Dec. 15, is the second-oldest living Negro League ballplayer, after Emilio Navarro, who will turn 104 later this month.

A lifetime .340 hitter, Mr. Williams was honored during the Legend Hall of Fame Vintage East/West All Star Game on Aug. 22 at the University of Maryland’s Shipley Field in College Park.

Although Mr. Williams played more than 70 years ago, he was buoyed by a surprise greeting party of fans and well-wishers who met his train’s Aug. 21 arrival at Union Station. While cameras flashed, he was encircled by an adoring crowd that included Dwayne Sims, founder of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame, and Samuel H. Dean, Prince George’s County Council member and the weekend event’s co-chairman.

Mr. Sims‘ goddaughter Khadia Handon sang the national anthem.

“I was honored to sing the national anthem. Mr. Williams is a legend in the game. After working with my godfather for about two years on this project, I felt a big adrenaline rush before I started singing,” said Ms. Handon, a Silver Spring resident.

The mission of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame is to educate people about the contributions of the Colored Professional League, with players such as Mr. Williams, to American baseball history. More than 1,500 game tickets have been donated to youth organizations in the District, Maryland and Virginia since the 2006 inaugural Negro League Salute All Star Game, according Mr. Sims.

“It is important for me that the players and teams get the proper recognition. I think it’s a great thing to keep the memory of this wonderful league alive by continuously celebrating their history-making achievements,” said Mr. Sims, a native of Prince George’s. He also has said it is important to him to host the games in the county to generate revenue.

Rep. Donna Edwards, Maryland Democrat, threw out the ceremonial first pitch for this year’s game, which included players from the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League, ages 16 to 18, and former professionals Pedro Swann, Dwayne Henry and Stoney Briggs.

Baseball, which began in the 1800s and grew in popularity in the 1860s, is often called America’s national pastime. Throughout that early period, black amateur teams formed, such as the Colored Union Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Pythian Club in Philadelphia. All-black professional teams began in the 1880s, among them the St. Louis Black Stockings and the Cuban Giants of New York.

Reflecting American society in general, amateur and professional baseball remained largely segregated, according to the Negro League Baseball Players Association.

“You had a lot people who where not allowed to play in Major League Baseball in those times. So they had to create leagues of their own,” Mr. Sims said.

Mr. Williams played third base and shortstop for the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1927 to ‘32 and the Homestead Grays in 1936. He was named an honorary member of the Negro League Hall of Fame several years ago. As member of the Crawfords, he played with greats such as Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

“He was the greatest pitcher I ever saw,” Mr. Williams said of Paige in a 2004 article attributed to the Negro League Baseball Players Association.

Mr. Williams‘ other teammates for the Crawfords included Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Buck O’Neil.

Segregation kept some of them from playing in the major leagues until Jackie Robinson officially broke the color barrier by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1940s. There were more than 3,000 black players from the 1900s to the early 1960s, according to the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame.

“We salute the baseball legends major, minor, and those who barnstormed because they played for the love of the game,” Mr. Sims said.

Mr. Williams said he isn’t bitter that some of the greatest players of his day were denied access to the major leagues because of the racial barriers of the time, according to the 2004 Negro League Baseball Players Association article. He continues to enjoy watching baseball on television.

• Odell B. Ruffin is a writer and photographer living in Prince George’s County.

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